Ambassador From The City
of Musical Memory
in conversation with John Child
Dorancé Lorza may not be a readily recognisable name, but if you check the credits on many Colombian productions released in the 1990s, you'll see his name as a performer, arranger or producer, or all three, on albums by such key names as Kike Harvey, Santiago Ceron, Los Niches, Los Del Caney, Conjunto Son del Barrio, Proyecto Omega and Cali Aleman, among others. He also worked un-credited on albums by Los Titanes, Los Nemus del Pacifico and Fruko y sus Tesos. Between 1983 and 1989 he led his own highly successful group Renacer Antillano. The year after relocating to London in 1995, Dorancé organised Sexteto Café with a line-up inspired by the great vibes-led Latin combos of the '50s and '60s, such as the Joe Cuba Sextet and New Swing Sextet. He was one of the sources used by the late Lise Waxer for her outstanding book The City of Musical Memory about "salsa, record grooves and popular culture in Cali, Colombia."
Here, John Child takes the opportunity of talking extensively with Dorancé about not only Sexteto Café's new album Salsa Pa' Ti, but also about his career and the salsa music scene in Cali. Dorancé shares his experience and views with a remarkable frankness and intimacy. More information about Dorancé's recording career can be found in the discographic profiles on him and Kike Harvey.
John Ian Child (JIC): You're a son of Cali, Colombia?
Dorancé Lorza (DL): Yep. I was born in the neighbourhood of Puerto Mallarino, which is a very poor neighbourhood on the shore of the River Cauca. On the other shore is a little town called Juanchito with just one street. A lot of houses along the river are nightclubs. During the day, the people living in the nightclubs use them as homes. But by night they are discotheques and nightclubs, and the people go to dance.
What happens in Cali is that by law all the places close by 2:00/3:00am. So when people want to keep the party going, they go to Juanchito. It was 10 minutes from my house. I remember my mother taking me across the river "Del Puente Pa'llá" (Beyond The Bridge), as in Jairo Varela's song (from Grupo Niche's Se Pasó!
'85 on New York Latin Records; aka Triunfo on Codiscos). What happened at the time is that people used to jump from the bridge into the river. People used to throw money and coins, and guys used to just jump and catch them. That was one the main forms of entertainment. The other thing was to go to Juanchito and see people dancing on Sundays. On Sundays there were these parties called agüelulos. Young people used to go to these and drink soft drinks. They basically just went for the dancing. They used to start at two o'clock in the afternoon until nine o'clock, ten o'clock, because they had to go to work on Monday morning. It was something regular, every Sunday.
JIC: How old were you when you first started to be taken over the bridge?
DL: Four-years-old, maybe. I've got some pictures of my mother dragging me. (Laughter) There were loads of things going on, on the bridge. Loads of gamblers; people selling balloons, selling sweets, and selling cassettes.
JIC: Was the music you were exposed to live or recorded?
DL: Basically records. I can remember records like "El Pajaro Loco" (aka "The Woodpecker") from Richie Ray and Bobby Cruz (included in their album In Orbit
'71 on Alegre). That's one of the first that comes to my memory. That was early '70s. I remember the Colombian artists at the time, like Piper Pimienta and even Fruko.
JIC: Was Piper Pimienta working as a solo artist?
DL: Solo artist at the time. At some point later he became part of the Fruko band.
JIC: Fruko y sus Tesos?
DL: Yeah, Los Tesos.
JIC: As well as the Latin Brothers?
DL: Yeah. There was loads of tropical music by Billo's Caracas Boys and bands from Venezuela: Federico y su Combo Latino. I remember in '73 or '74 Sexteto Juventud came to Cali.
DL: That was a big event in the city.
JIC: You saw Sexteto Juventud then?
DL: No. Everybody was talking about that. Because of the visit by this band to the city my mother got the records.
JIC: You mention Sexteto Juventud, and they're a big favourite of mine, and particularly their lead singer, Tabaco. Were they really big in Cali before they came, or did their visit prompt their popularity?
DL: They were big before. I remember all the excitement. The people in the little neighbourhood where I grew up made their living from extracting sand from the river. The only means of entertainment were playing pool and listening to this music. So music was extremely important.
JIC: When you went to Juanchito, were there particular clubs or particular deejays you checked out?
DL: I remember one club called Richie.
JIC: Just called Richie, not Club Richie?
DL: Just called Richie in tribute to Richie Ray. Everyone said: "I'm going to the Richie." This club was round in shape with ventilated wooden walls. So, with the weather being too hot, it was very fresh in there. And with air coming from the river, it was the perfect place to be.
JIC: Was a particular type of music associated with the Richie?
DL: Yeah, boogaloo. The phenomenon at the time was that because boogaloo songs are really slow, they would speed them up to 78 revolutions. To do all the jumping. I can remember this woman dancer called Amparo "Arrebato," because my mother was called Amparo. My mother was a good dancer, so these guys called her "Arrebato," too. She wasn't as great as the original, but because they had the same name I always remember this.
JIC: Tell me more about what these clubs were playing?
DL: Basically they played boogaloo and Colombian tropical music. Music from the Caribbean coast like porro, a funny style of cumbia; let's say a commercial cumbia. One of the main bands around at the time was Billo's Caracas Boys.
JIC: So that's what you were mainly exposed to at that stage?
DL: Yeah, at that stage.
JIC: So was it exposure to those types of music that inspired you to become a musician?
DL: I cannot tell you, but what I can say to you is that this music was around all the time. My mother used to wake up at seven o'clock to sweep the house, and the first thing on was the radio. Almost 24 hours. It's funny, but in this poor neighbourhood, what happened is that everyone tried to show how loud their stereo could sound. So it was music all around the neighbourhood, 24 hours a day.
JIC: That strikes a tremendous chord with me, because I'm very familiar with the Caribbean through Trinidad. And, just in one house, you'll have several sources of music blasting at the same time.
DL: When you got a new record in the house, you used to have a party in order to show off the new record. (Laughter) You were able to play that record that nobody else had.
JIC: So acquiring a new record was a prestigious thing?
DL: On yeah, definitely.
JIC: Were records expensive to buy?
DL: Not expensive, difficult to get.
JIC: So this would be mainly import records?
DL: Import records. I remember I have a sister of my father's grandmother. I don't know how you call that. She used to have one of these places in Juanchito. So she used to invite my mother to go to Buenaventura on the coast. To get into the ships, to get records for her nightclub. So, the way to show-off was to get these records nobody had.
JIC: Do you have any memories of records that had an impact on you?
DL: Not really. But I remember this Raúl Marrero record. There's a song called "Sin Sangre En Las Venas" (available on Marrero's album Sin Sangre En Las Venas
on Kubaney). I cannot remember the exact date, but I remember when this record came to my house. I remember Gonzalo Fernández, Joe Cuba
JIC: Do you remember which Gonzalo Fernández?
DL: I just remember the name.
JIC: At what stage did you start in music?
DL: My desire to learn music began when I was around 10 or 11. On my way to school, I used to cross this road to watch Tito Cortés having rehearsals with his band. I succumbed to the temptation of going there instead of going to school in the afternoon. They used to rehearse almost three or four times a week; between one o'clock and six o'clock. So when I was going to school there was music going on, and when I was going home there was music still there. So I was always tempted to go there. It was three or four years after that I decided to really start asking questions about instruments and, if they would allow me, to try them. That was the way I got into it. That was early '80s.
JIC: You've said elsewhere that a couple of your inspirations in relation to playing the tres were Niño Rivera and Arsenio Rodríguez. How early on were you exposed to them?
DL: Their records were at home. So when I started playing guitar, there were these guitar players being played at home. So I was curious to ask who these people were, and maybe to find someone to teach me what they were doing.
JIC: So you played tres with Tito Cortés before you led your own band?
DL: Yeah, that was before. It was between 1982 and 1986 that I was hanging about at his house, where a load of musicians used to go. I remember the guy who used to play tres with Los Del Caney before me, Jorge Huertas, he spent some time in this house. In this house I met Alfredo Linares, the piano player from Peru. So it was a good reference point. I asked him questions all the time. Loads of musicians from the city used to hang around in this house. Tito Cortés was a popular idol at the time. He didn't play salsa; he played boleros and old Cuban standards.
JIC: So his house was a meeting point comparable to the famous basement of Andy and Jerry González in New York?
DL: That's the equivalent of that. So lots of people used to go there, and sometimes there was jamming outside the house in the back yard and front yard. Just people playing. I just used to go to watch them play.
JIC: Just a brief digression. You mentioned Alfredo Linares there. It's evident to me that he's a major icon on the Colombian music scene.
DL: Yeah. In the early '70s he had two big hits, which are considered classics today. These were the songs "Tiahuanaco" and "Mambo Rock." From my point of view, he's the best piano player that South America has produced. He has a fantastic knowledge. In the late '70s he went to Venezuela, where he was like a book because of his knowledge. He produced one of the Mango albums.
JIC: How long has Alfredo Linares resided in Colombia?
DL: From the middle '80s.
JIC: And he's stayed there ever since?
DL: He's stayed there, yes.
JIC: Tell me how you came to form your first band?
DL: Grupo Niche's piano player, Julio Cortés, is the grandson of Tito Cortés. He was about seven-years-old when I met him while I was hanging around in Tito Cortés' house. He was playing piano already. At the time we started hanging around together...like a kids band. It was like a way to play. I was in two or three groups before getting into my first serious band. There was one called the New Combo. That was around 1980. That was like a year's experience. Then I moved into a band called Ecué Antillano. And from this band we decided to take it into Conjunto Renacer.
JIC: So you and the membership of Ecué decided to form Renacer?
DL: Yeah, Renacer. The guy who was the director of Ecué couldn't really play.
JIC: What did he play?
DL: Congas. He was the conga player.
JIC: What sort of band was Ecué?
DL: It was similar to Sexteto Juventud: guitar, tres, bongo, conga and bass.
JIC: And was the New Combo similar?
DL: Similar, similar.
JIC: Was this because of the considerable influence of Sexteto Juventud?
DL: Despite the fact that we played all the Sexteto Juventud songs, the main reason we only had electric guitar, bass and percussion was because it was difficult to find brass players because we were so young. So it was easier to do everything with the guitar.
JIC: Were the Sexteto Juventud songs the backbone of your repertoire?
DL: Yes, because they were really simple to play.
JIC: Did you perform any original tunes?
DL: No, not at that point. We played some Joe Cuba songs like "Oriente" and "A Las Seis" (both from Steppin' Out
'62 on Seeco). Then we moved into a little more difficult stuff like, for example, Cheo Felicano of the '70s: "Anacaona" (from Cheo
'71 on Vaya); some Eddie Palmieri tunes.
JIC: Were you the arranger?
DL: No, we used to imitate the recordings.
JIC: So stuff wasn't written down?
DL: No. Everything was by ear.
JIC: Tell me how the transition from Ecué to Renacer Antillano occurred?
DL: Well, at some point we were feeling we needed to have a better band. We wanted a band to do what we call música antillana, which is old Cuban and Puerto Rican stuff. We decided to play old Trio La Rosa, Miguel Matamoros, Guaracheros de Oriente, Los Maraqueros; music from Cuba before the revolution. We were a really successful band because we played for all classes in Cali. Rich people were not into salsa, but they are into música antillana, which is the Cuban classics. So we were able to play for everyone. All the parties. Plus we were really successful among the cartel people. For instance, I remember this guy from Medellín in this party in Cali. He had a farm called "A La Caridad Del Cobre". Without knowing this, we played "A La Caridad Del Cobre", the Celina González song (available on A Santa Barbara
on Suaritos and other albums). The guy was overexcited about it. So after that, the guy used to fly the band from Cali to Medellín, and he'd take us to this farm just in order for us to play this song for him. He used to have these parties, and we'd have to play this song five, six, seven times for the guy. So there was a lot of money involved.
JIC: Did you record?
DL: Yeah. It was really funny with Renacer because most of the guys were happy with what we were playing at the time. But I wasn't, because I wanted to move into something else. I wanted to play original stuff and develop our own sound. But because the band was really successful and gigging a lot, they didn't want to. So the point came when we had to make a record. So it took a lot of time to decide what to record, and in what style. After a lot of discussion, we decided to try a new sound. So we called Alfredo Linares to do this for us. Unfortunately, despite the fact that I think the album was great, it wasn't what people were used to with Renacer Antillano. So people didn't like the record because they were expecting us to play música antillana.
JIC: Did you change your lineup for the album?
DL: Yeah. We added piano, a synthesizer, and a flute. We came with a sound very similar to Seis del Solar from the period when they used all the synthesizers.
JIC: Do you remember the name of the album?
DL: It was called Decididos (Decided) and was recorded in Cali in 1989. It was released in 1990 on the Philips label. Basically we did something completely different from what we were doing for about six years. It was a complete flop. There were three positive things that came out of this album. The two singers with the band, Carlos Romero and Omar Agreda, were called by Andrés Viáfara of La Suprema Corte orchestra, and at the same time I met César Monge. So he invited me to play the tres solo on "La Batidora" in Sonero Para El Mundo (1992 on Sonolux) with Kike Harvey.
JIC: While you were working with Renacer between 1983 and 1989, the Colombian music scene was going through a lot of changes. So would you like to tell me about the background against which you were working?
DL: After the success of Grupo Niche, musicians started to believe they could do original music and be successful. So everybody was doing their own stuff. Some bands were playing good music, some didn't. We were just stuck with playing traditional music. And people liked us because of that. On the other hand there was all the cartel business investing money in bands. Basically all the economy was cocaine money. They made it legal in so many ways. It is funny to say it, but I suppose they should have kept it like that because drugs are not our problem. If the people with the addicts don't do anything about it, the problem is going to be there. Whether it's Colombia, Bolivia or Peru, or whatever. At the time, we were just living from the benefit of the money. Because there was plenty for everyone. Some of the people that really enjoyed this money were the musicians. What I always say to people is that you have to understand that the culture of the drug people was basically showing-off how much you could spend.
JIC: Having a band was a symbol of prestige?
DL: Yep, but not just having. Just showing-off how much you paid them.
JIC: How was this displayed?
DL: When you're holding a party, you say to your friend: "Do you know how much I paid them?" "I paid them this."
DL: Yes. You say: "OK, if I'm giving this party, I will bring Eddie Palmieri just for my party." And Eddie Palmieri was there with the whole band, just for your party. Not just Eddie Palmieri; sometimes there were parties with Sonora Ponceña, Tommy Olivencia, Gran Combo.
JIC: Didn't owning bands happen in addition to hiring big name bands?
DL: Yeah, owning bands. For example, in their songs they used to call your name. It was something you showed-off, and you had that song played on the radio because your name was there.
JIC: I remember Israel Tanenbaum telling me that Grupo Star were a band like that (See the Descarga Journal Archives for Israel Tanenbaum's contributions to the discographic profiles of Grupo Niche and Orquesta Guayacán, July 14, 2001).
DL: Yeah, they were. The guy was called Aroldo Molina Molinares. When the record came out, it was his picture on the cover, not the band's picture.
JIC: This was almost a way for these guys to publicise themselves?
DL: Yeah, yeah, definitely.
JIC: You're happy that all this is for the record?
DL: Yeah, definitely. Yeah, yeah. It was so positive for musicianship, to be in the same house with these guys from New York and Puerto Rico and have the chance to ask questions.
JIC: You wanted to be part of the action?
DL: Yeah, of course! Everybody wanted to be.
JIC: How much of wanting to be part of the action was wanting to make more money and how much of it was wanting to move on musically?
DL: At the time, I think money wasn't important. Because, as I said, socially there was a lot of money in circulation. So it wasn't an issue that they needed to get it. It was more the fact that next week I knew I was going to meet Papo Lucca, and have the chance to ask him: "How did you play the chord in this song?" That I'd been trying for years to get it. Things like that. I remember meeting the Cuban tres player Pancho Amat once at these parties. And this was one of the most important meetings of my life. Francisco Amat was the tres player with Adalberto Alvarez y su Son. I think Pancho Amat is the point where Arsenio Rodríguez meets Niño Rivera. He's the guy that's got both. For me, he's the best tres player ever. I remember being at this party with Cheo Felicano. At the time he had released this album Como Tu Lo Pediste (1988 on Coche) with Jimmy Sabater.
JIC: Yep. Wonderful album.
DL: At the time, it was him, Orquesta Aragón, Celina González, Sonora Ponceña, Oscar D'León, El Gran Combo and Conjunto Renacer; we were all at the same party playing for these guys. And, because there were like 10 bands, all you could do was talk to all the musicians while waiting for your turn to play. So it was fantastic while it was going on at the time.
JIC: So these parties were the cartel
DL: Yeah. Private parties. It was funny because the top guys from the police force were there. The top guys from the military forces were at the parties. Politicians
JIC: Right. So it was the elite in Cali that were at these parties?
JIC: It would have been obvious to those in attendance where the party holders were getting their money from?
DL: Oh, yeah, definitely. Yeah, yeah.
JIC: Anyway, you were telling me about the significance of hooking-up with César Monge.
DL: One of the things I'm proud of about the Conjunto Renacer album Decidido was the way I played tres. Basically he took notice of who was playing tres on that album. That was the way I met Kike Harvey, because at that time Orquesta La Identidad had a tres player. And it seems that they weren't happy with him. So it got to the point that they were going to record a new album, and they were going to invite me to do it. So that's how I met Kike. Kike mentioned to me that he was doing an album with César Monge, so he might need a tres player to play a solo. So that's how I met César Monge. I went to the studio and played the solo. And then I remember offering my services to him, saying: "If at some point you need an arrangement, I will be able to do it. You won't have to pay me anything if you don't like it." That's how we started working together. It's here that everything started for me, because he called me two or three weeks after that because he was working on an album for Tuto Jiménez for Sonolux. He said to me: "Dorancé, I need an arrangement for tomorrow." The name of the song I arranged for Tuto Jiménez was called "Llegó La Zafra." Zafra is the process of collecting the sugarcane from the plantation.
JIC: Of course, Tuto Jiménez had sung with
DL: With Grupo Niche. At that time, César Monge was the guy in Cali. He was doing loads of things at the same time. So I suppose he called me to do that arrangement because he didn't have the time to do it. I remember he was producing for Jairo Varela; he was doing Grupo Niche, and he was doing Tuto Jiménez, and he was doing some Guayacán stuff. He was just too busy to please everyone.
JIC: Tell me about César's band La Pandilla? There's only one album I'm aware of (César "Albondiga" Monges Y La Pandilla '90 on Codiscos).
DL: La Pandilla was basically Grupo Niche. One of the comments of Grupo Niche's musicians was that they got bored of playing Grupo Niche's music. So when César Monge came, they decided to have La Pandilla as a fun band to play Latin jazz and others things.
JIC: So it was a performing band?
DL: It was a performing band when Grupo Niche was doing nothing. So they got a few gigs in order to have fun. Recording an album wasn't in the plan because they had signed a contract with Jairo. So basically, at the first stage, La Pandilla was Grupo Niche without Jairo Varela.
JIC: Did you play live with La Pandilla?
DL: Yeah, I did one or two gigs before the album.
JIC: How long did La Pandilla last?
DL: It was about three or four years. But it wasn't a regular band. Because Grupo Niche was busy all the time. So if there was a free weekend, and there was a chance to do a gig
JIC: What sort of gigs did they do?
DL: Nightclubs in Cali. We played once in Juanchito. I remember being supporting band for Eddie Santiago on one occasion. It wasn't something regular.
JIC: Meanwhile, you got to work with Kike Harvey via your association with César Monge.
JIC: At that stage, was Kike performing with his own band?
DL: No. That came after. When César Monge left Grupo Niche, he wanted to have La Pandilla as a serious band. As something regular. But it didn't work.
JIC: Was the album part of an attempt to put the band on the map?
DL: I think the album was more César Monge's way to get money, because he was charging loads of money to produce an album. (Laughter) He produced it for Codiscos because it was the same label that had Grupo Niche. So there was no problem with contracts and rights and all the stuff with the musicians who were signed to the company or Grupo Niche. So that's why he recorded with the same label. But when the time came to have the band properly established, it didn't work because he couldn't have the musicians from Grupo Niche. So he had to try with new guys and it took time. It didn't work. There wasn't, let's say, the infrastructure and money to pay the radio stations to do the promotion of the record. He wasn't willing to make this money available to get this record played.
JIC: Tell me how things developed between you and Kike?
DL: Basically the thing that started everything was that arrangement of "Llegó La Zafra" I wrote for Tuto Jiménez, because that was the song that was played on the radio. The song basically talks about sugarcane. There was a football team in the city called Deportivo Cali that was supported by the cartel. They were called "The Guys From The Sugar Plantation," something like that, and had sugarcane as their image. This song was talking about sugarcane and how the sugar was extracted from the plant. So every time this team scored a goal, they used to play this song. The song was a big hit. Everyone knew this song there. So people were finding out who wrote the arrangement of this song. After that it was loads of phone calls: "I want an arrangement for this, I want an arrangement for that." It was really the starting point, the trigger.
JIC: This was for Sonolux?
DL: Yes, the same company that had Kike Harvey. That's why this guy didn't pay much attention to Tuto Jiménez, because they had Kike. And, actually, Kike was a stronger singer and his image was stronger. Sonolux was really looking forward to promoting Kike as a huge thing, but I don't know what got in the way of them agreeing.
JIC: What was the Tuto Jiménez album called?
DL: Regalame Una Noche (Give Me Another Night; 1992 on Sonolux). The company folk used one salsa romántica song to promote the album, but it didn't work because Tuto Jiménez didn't have this kind of voice. But the song that worked was the one I did.
JIC: Tuto also worked with La Cali Charanga (he sang on their eponymous '87 and '88 releases on Codiscos / Sonotone). He seemed to move into La Cali Charanga after Grupo Niche. Then they tried a solo career with him, and it didn't work
(NOTE: In 1999 Tuto reunited with another former Niche vocalist Alvaro del Castillo for El Regreso De Las Estrellas Del Ayer on YOYO Music.)
DL: It didn't work. I think he did an album with Alexis Lozano.
JIC: Because they were originally together in Niche?
JIC: Meanwhile you continued to do further projects with Kike Harvey?
DL: Two albums (Diferente '93 and Pinceladas de Amor '94 on Sonolux). One thing that I would like to mention to you is that, at this time, there was another guy who was really happening in Cali called Jesús "Chucho" Ramírez. He played the piano on Sonero Para El Mundo (1992 on Sonolux) with Kike Harvey. In the early '90s he was the main producer in Cali. He produced for everyone there. He was really important to me because he included me in every single production. He used to give me one or two arrangements. I'm really grateful to him. Despite the fact that nobody knew me as an arranger, he would always give some to me. I have to thank him. Chucho produced for Oscar D'León in Cali. There is a song called "Casas De Carton" (from Oscar's Toitico Y Tuyo '94 on Sonero Records / Sony; Chucho arranged and produced the track).
I first met Chucho when I was studying at the Popular Institute. When I just got in, Chucho was graduating from there. I think the first album Chucho worked on was Salsa Por Siempre '90 on Astro Son by Orquesta Internacional Los Niches with "Que Nunca Me Falte." That was a big hit. We started working together after that. The first work I did with Chucho was with Proyecto Omega. The three arrangements I did for this album Proyecto Omega Orquesta (1993 on Sonolux) were the three hits. A song called "La Cuenta" and "Y Tu Amandolo A El." And the other song that was big was one called "Cruzando El Hueco" (Crossing The Hole). Talking about immigrants going to America through Mexico. It was huge. José "Cheo" Angulo, who was the leader of the band, composed the songs. Chucho produced the album. Then there was Orquesta Matecaña, Grupo Canela, Orquesta Yerbabuena. All of this work with Chucho. I had the good fortune that the arrangements I did were the hits.
JIC: Tell me more about your projects with Kike Harvey and his sister Daisy?
DL: Kike Harvey called me when César Monge left to go to Bogotá. And we produced this one called Diferente. It was funny because nothing happened with the album in Cali. But I know the album was played quite a lot abroad. I was surprised that the album was being played when I came to London. I don't know what the companies in Colombia do, because they don't make all the recordings an international product. I was lucky enough that all the ones I did went abroad, which was quite important for me as a producer.
JIC: We didn't acquire them as international products over here (in the UK). Because of Mr Bongo and small Colombian outlets, we were getting imported copies. That's how we came across them. It was much later that you got operations like Música Latina in France who started putting out product in Europe.
DL: Right. What's the name of the Música Latina guy? Héctor Herrera.
JIC: Please carry on telling me about your work with Kike Harvey?
DL: It was really special to work with Kike because he has tremendous potential as a singer. It is really easy to record with him. Kike is so talented. He doesn't fit easily into bands. Because sometimes bands want to play safe. If you have a hit, people want to stay put and try to get more of the same. But Kike is always looking for changes. He can't stay in bands for long periods. That's why he couldn't stay longer with Orquesta La Identidad. He was basically the one that made them successful.
JIC: He outgrows them?
DL: Yeah, definitely.
JIC: Tell me about the development of the three trombone / baritone sax frontline?
DL: Actually, it was Kike that came up with the idea. He said to me: "What about if we put this thing together." I remember telling him: "Give me time to see if it can work." Because I don't think it was done before. When we recorded Pinceladas de Amor, it worked really well. But mainly it was his idea.
JIC: Which recording with the three trombone / baritone sax combination came first: Daisy's La Perla Negra (1994 on Sonolux) or Pinceladas de Amor?
DL: I think Daisy's La Perla Negra came after Pinceladas de Amor. It's a shame these people didn't push La Perla Negra. I think it's great.
JIC: There was a hope that this material might get reissued, but it still hasn't happened, has it?
DL: I don't think it's going to. I remember that a few years ago there was a fever of people playing tribute to Ismael Rivera. Actually among the first ones that did it were us. But that song wasn't included in Pinceladas de Amor. We recorded a medley in tribute to Ismael Rivera. The company's idea was to have a half hour tribute, but we wanted it to be played on the radio. So we had a 12-minute tribute. But I don't understand why they didn't include it in the album.
JIC: While we're talking about Kike, he's not got the recognition he deserves.
DL: Not really.
JIC: He hasn't recorded as a solo artist for quite some time.
DL: Yeah, since maybe 1994.
JIC: He recently appeared on the Jorge Herrera album Castigando!!! (2002 on Latino's & Co.).
DL: I haven't heard it.
JIC: He does one track on it, "Son Paranoico."
DL: Right. And the one he did with Jairo Varela, Jairo Varela Presenta Alma del Barrio (1998 on Graba Music / Niche Disco).
JIC: Would you like to say why he has not got the status his talent deserves?
DL: Let me tell you something that is horrible to say. Basically, in the last 10 years, companies are looking for pretty boys, good looking guys. That's what counts now. On the other hand, when Kike got his success with those albums: the two that César Monge produced (Salsa, Pachanga y Amor '91 on Sonolux and follow-up Sonero Para El Mundo) and the other two I did for him (Diferente and Pinceladas de Amor), he put up his price too high. At some point, the record companies didn't bother to propose to him because he was charging too much at the time. Despite the fact that there was a lot of money to pay him. I think it was that, basically.
JIC: You've said to me before that you felt the reason Sonolux didn't push Daisy's album La Perla Negra was that you thought they had concerns about promoting her image as a very dark skinned black woman.
DL: Yes, definitely, that was the reason. Because when I was asked to do her album, they didn't know her. She was just Kike Harvey's sister.
JIC: Who commissioned it then?
DL: A guy at Sonolux from Venezuela, who was the artistic director for the company at the time. The only thing they knew about her was this tape that Kike took to the company. So they were fascinated by her voice, but there was no picture.
JIC: She guested on Diferente.
DL: Yeah, the "Candela" song. But they didn't know anything about her. They just went through the releasing of the album. They didn't do any posters. Nothing at all. When these companies have got a product, the first edition is like 5000 copies. With her, they did like 500 and they released it just in Cali. That's it, the album disappeared.
JIC: They had cold feet from the beginning?
DL: Yeah, yeah, definitely. Because they said we cannot work with this image.
JIC: So what became of Daisy?
DL: I haven't heard.
JIC: And you've not heard anything recently about Kike?
DL: No. When I next go to Colombia, I'm going to look for him. Because I want him to sing a couple of songs with Sexteto Café. I'm going to try as hard as I can to have it there.
(NOTE: Subsequent to this interview, Made In Colombia on Exclusivo by the Lebrón Brothers was issued in April 2004 featuring Kike Harvey on eight tracks.)
JIC: You were speaking a moment ago about this emphasis on the pretty boy singers, and this is undeniably what's been happening.
DL: Oh yeah.
JIC: Presumably the marketing people see being Afro-Colombian as a disadvantage in terms of sales at the moment?
DL: Yeah, it is. It's funny because the roots of this music is black people. I remember being in Bogotá and going to the BMG office, and showing some projects to the director of the company. And the answer was: "No, I'm not interested. This is music for blacks." And that's it. That's the way they look at it. If the project has got possibilities today with white people, they might consider it.
JIC: What does that say then for the historical success of Niche and Guayacán?
DL: That's a very interesting question. But if you look back to Niche, basically they got the black market first. And the black market in Colombia is huge. So when the companies looked to the sales, then that's irrelevant. It's just that the product sells. But before that, they didn't take risks. When Niche appeared on the scene, they appeared with a 45. And because they sold enough, they appeared with another 45.
JIC: So it was a bit like the Colombian equivalent of Beyoncé Knowles crossing over from the US R&B market to the pop market?
DL: Yeah, but to make that cross she's looking whiter now. She's looking more like a white.
DL: That's basically the way it works. I mean, Kike Harvey should be the guy.
JIC: I know. I just admire the man's work tremendously. Is the expression "Afro-Colombian" a term that is used?
DL: In Colombia? Oh no, no.
JIC: What would you say?
DL: Negros. We say mulatos or trigueños. I'm trigueño. Trigueño is a person that is neither black nor white. In other regions of the country they are called mulatos. But "Afro-Colombian" is a very technical term that we don't use. Lise Waxer uses it a lot in her book The City of Musical Memory (published in 2002 by Wesleyan University Press).
JIC: Maybe that's where I got it from. So we can talk about black Colombians?
DL: Yeah, that's basically how we refer to them.
JIC: Tell me about your contract with Discos Fuentes?
DL: Let me tell you something funny. When Los Del Caney were a top band
JIC: They originally recorded for
DL: CBS. When they left CBS, they went to BMG. But BMG made an arrangement with Jairo Varela that he was going to be the musical director of BMG in Colombia for tropical music. They were playing this música antillana style. Very Cuban style. When Jairo Varela proposed to Los Del Caney, what he did was add a piano and another trumpet. And he made a record of romantic music. So it was a flop straight away. Some of the original musicians of Los Del Caney left the band because of that. The album was called Retocando and it was released in 1992 on the new Niche Discos label for BMG. The cover of the album was the back of a naked woman. You could see her bottom. She was painting a picture that said "Niche Discos." A small tattoo on one of her legs said "Los Del Caney". So when you saw this cover, you said: "Oh, the new Grupo Niche." So people bought the album thinking it was Grupo Niche. But what they found was a different band. So what happened is that people gave the album back. It was a complete mess and a disaster for Los Del Caney.
JIC: Did Fuentes do like they do so often with bands and attain their name?
DL: When you go to Discos Fuentes they give you a contract like a book. One of the pages says you give the name to the company. This is what happened with Alberto Barros and the Los Titanes name. The same thing happened with Alexis Murillo. Now the names Los Titanes and Los Nemus del Pacifico belong to the company. At this period, Los Del Caney were really struggling to survive as a band. The tres player, Jorge Huertas, went to America, and he had a problem with the law there. And he was put in jail. So he called the company and said: "Listen, I can't do this." Because he was going to do the album as a director of the band. So he said: "Please call Dorancé. This is the only guy who will be able to do the album the way Caney used to sound." So they called me. I did the album for them (Clave y Son '94 on Fuentes).
JIC: Would you like to tell me more about the work you did for Fuentes? Because this would be around the time you were just about to leave Colombia.
DL: Yeah. John, working for Fuentes was a great experience. They are very difficult people to work with because when they are going to do an album, they have a committee meeting. There are about 12 or 15 people. They decide what the bands are going to record. They don't give you that option. So they decide how they want the album. They decide the instruments you are going to have on the album. And they decide which people you are going to record the album with. So it's really difficult to work with because they are not musicians. They are just people thinking about the business.
JIC: So you're given a really tight specification to work with?
DL: Yeah. Actually, what they really respected me for was the second Los Del Caney album (Con Sabor a Viejoteca - Exitos de Cuba '96 on Fuentes; issued as Me Contagié '97 on Vedisco / Fuentes). Because they were having problems with one of the guys who had been in this committee for years. They were trying to get rid of him. They commanded him to do the second Caney album. And, basically because the guy didn't have musical knowledge, he called me. He said: "Dorancé, can you do the selection of the songs for the new Caney album? And let's hope everything goes right."
JIC: You got more freedom?
DL: They gave me a hundred percent freedom. I could do anything. So I said to the guy: "OK, I've got an idea based on my experience with Renacer Antillano." So I went into the record shops in Cali, and asked them to give me a list of songs that were popular with people, but not available in the market. I got a list of 30 songs. I went into around 10 record shops. When I got the match of the most requested songs, I said: "OK, these 15 songs are the ones we are going to record. And I'm going to do a medley of the Los Del Caney hits from their previous records with CBS." I went into the studio and recorded the album with musicians they never used. A month after the release of Exitos de Cuba, something like 60,000 copies were sold. The sales were huge. The guy at Música Latina in France told me that he sold around 3000 copies of the album just in Paris, which is huge as well.
I had conversations with Fuentes about going back from the UK to Colombia to produce the next album. But they didn't want to in the end because of the cost of taking me there. They did the next album (Repicando El Son '98 by Los Del Caney) and it was a flop. They called the same musicians for the recording, but it was a flop. And actually the guys in France didn't release it. So, in a way, that showed me I was on the right track.
JIC: You also produced Salsa De Hit '95 by Orquesta Internacional Los Niches for Fuentes.
DL: Yeah, it was almost the same situation as with Los Del Caney. After Gustavo Rodríguez left the band, the band went down. Gustavo Rodríguez and Chucho Ramírez both left the band to do Gustavo Rodríguez's solo stuff. Basically, Los Niches collapsed.
JIC: Around that time you worked with La Maximá Identidad. Tell me how that came about?
DL: That band was originally La Identidad with Kike Harvey, but bands have always got internal problems. This orchestra was a cooperative; everybody has got a membership in the band; they own the band. So they split in two. At this point they got this recording contract with FM Discos. The production was done by Chucho Ramírez. At the time, Chucho was really fascinated with Sergio George's style; like timba. So the whole album was basically like that, and it was a flop. I suggested to Chucho: "Let's do a tribute to Celina González." So he said to me: "OK, you do whatever you have to do." So I chose about eight hits of Celina González and did the arrangements in a very traditional way. I recorded tres, laud and guitar. The resulting song, "Celina Mix," saved the album. That song was put on compilations.
JIC: What was the album called?
DL: Al Maximo (1996 on FM).
JIC: Could you clear something up? Did Kike Harvey continue to work with La Identidad after recording his albums with La Orquesta Concepción (El Kike Harvey y la Orquesta Concepción '87 and Homenaje '88, both on Codiscos)?
DL: That was Kike's own band.
JIC: Were they a working band?
DL: No, they were just a studio band. Andrés Viáfara was the producer of the two albums. Andrés Viáfara was just starting to do arranging and producing. He was a completely unknown guy.
JIC: Was Kike still with Identidad at the time?
DL: Yeah, but he recorded with La Orquesta Concepción by himself. He just used one or two musicians from La Identidad.
JIC: He's not on the first La Identidad album Orquesta La Identidad (1987 on Codiscos) I have; but he appears on the subsequent one, Un Toque de Misterio (1990 on Codiscos), featuring the hit "Quiéreme."
DL: That's because Orquesta La Identidad punished him. Kike was with the band in live performances. But because of the La Orquesta Concepción albums, they punished him and he didn't record with them. But nothing happened with that album Orquesta La Identidad. Then "Quiéreme" came, and it was a massive, massive hit. So Kike realized that he was the one in the band, and he decided to go by himself. At the time that "Quiéreme" was released, it was Monge who was there as the band's producer.
It's funny, John, but I don't understand musicians' egos. Kike was the hit of that band and they did everything possible to make him leave. And the same thing happened with Gustavo Rodríguez in Orquesta Internacional Los Niches. When Gustavo joined, it was when things really started to happen. If you look at Los Niches album Originalmente, what everybody thought was that Gustavo Rodríguez would sing half of the album. Actually, the only two songs that were played were the two songs he sang. Chucho arranged these two songs. Los Niches only gave him one song on the album after that, Algo Diferente. And it was this one song sung by Gustavo that they gave to Chucho to arrange. Gustavo and Chucho felt that the band was putting them aside, that's why they left. And as soon as they left, the band stopped performing because people wanted to see this little boy there.
JIC: I know another couple of people you are proud to have worked with in Colombia before you moved to the UK, are Lucho Puerto Rico and Santiago Ceron. Tell me about them?
DL: Santiago Ceron was invited to Cali to record an album with Astro Son (Desde Santiago de Cali '93). When he arrived in the city, he already knew which musicians he was going to make the recording with. So it was very satisfying to myself that someone in America had maybe recommended me. Because when he got to the company, he said: "I want this, I want that." It might have been Henry Fiol or Melcochita who mentioned to him: "Go and look for these guys." To get some recognition in your career is good, especially from people who know about this music. He was really pleased with the result after we finished the album.
JIC: Tell me more about the Astro Son label? One of the things they seemed to specialise in was recording New York-based artists who are popular in Colombia. They also worked with the Lebrón Brothers (Salsa en el Paraiso con los Lebrón '90 on Astro Son).
DL: Astro Son was a cartel label, in order to launder money. That was basically what it was about. So what else can I tell you about it?
JIC: Didn't Astro Son also have a tie-up with Fuentes towards the end?
DL: Fuentes bought the rights of the albums to do major coverage, because Astro Son was a local label.
JIC: Did Astro Son exist before?
DL: No, it just existed during this
JIC: It was set up by the cartel?
JIC: Tell me about Lucho Puerto Rico?
DL: Well, Lucho is a guy who has been around a long time. We're from the same neighbourhood. When I was a kid, he was a singer who already had some recognition. There was a band in the early '70s called the Afro Sound, or Afro Son. He was the singer of the band. He had an album on Sonolux called El Pimpi Soy Yo in about 1981/82 with the song "Carnaval de Juanchito" about carnival in Juanchito; the carnival produced by Larry Landa. And it was a massive hit in the region. So he was really popular at the time. After that he had an album on Codiscos produced by Alfredo Linares, which was a hit in Cali. After this we did Rumba Antillana by Conjunto Son del Barrio (1992 on Kañaveral).
JIC: This was another album you were surprised had received so much recognition in the UK.
DL: Yeah, It was huge in Cali. I remember Johnny Gutiérrez at Mr Bongo telling me that they sold loads here. This was really surprising to me, because it was a really small local label. It was this guy who put all this money into the label and worked really hard to make the label go for him. And it really worked for him.
JIC: And there were only a few titles on Kañaveral. There was that Diego Flóres album Salsa Ritmo Caliente Vol. 2 (1991) and the second Sarabanda album A Golpe de Marea (1991).
DL: Yes, that's right. There was another album called El Futura de la Salsa, which I produced for Kañaveral with Gustavo Rodríguez and Milton César singing. This album was massive in Cali. These were basically the only albums he produced, plus a few compilations. After the success of Rumba Antillana by Conjunto Son del Barrio, which didn't exist as a band, Lucho suddenly disappeared off the scene. Because Héctor Herrera from El Dorado in Paris sold loads of Rumba Antillana, he said: "I'm going to Cali to look for this guy, and do another album like that one." So he went to Codiscos and proposed to Fernando López, who was the guy in charge at the time, that if Codiscos made an album with Lucho, he will buy the rights to release it in Europe. I met Héctor Herrera in Paris when I was on tour with Los Nemus del Pacifico, so he knew I played tres on Rumba Antillana, and wanted me to produce it. So that's how we got together.
JIC: Did you record with Los Nemus del Pacifico?
DL: I produced and did all the arrangements on Montunos! (1993 on Fuentes). All this happened in a short period of time, and you get confused about the details and dates. There were more than a 100 productions
JIC: But hopefully this is stirring up your memory?
DL: Yes, it's coming back.
JIC: So, around this time you made the decision to leave Colombia?
DL: John, it didn't happen as a decision. And sometimes I'm embarrassed to talk about it, because it never came to my mind to stay here. I was on this tour, and said: "Let's go to London for a little bit of fun." Basically, when you come here and there's fun around, you say: "OK, I'm going to stay another week." So before I knew it, I'd been here six or seven months. Then the idea to have a band here came.
JIC: How long have you been here now?
DL: Eight years now. (Laughter) So I never said goodbye to my family. I was saying: "No, next month. I'm coming back next month. No, next week
" It's been tough sometimes, because when you start living as a Londoner, life gets complicated. My god. So when I was in the middle of this party life, suddenly Hanny appeared and asked me to do this production for Mr Bongo. I thought: "Hey, this is going to be a good place to be and produce music." Unfortunately, it didn't happen like that, but it was a great experience to do The Voice of Cuba by Hanny And His Friends (1996 on Mr Bongo).
It was a very difficult production. It was the most incredible mess you can imagine. There was no music. There was this inexperienced Cuban, who was very difficult to work with. We were in the studio, paying for the time, and there was no music. But, at the end, I think we got a good production. The guy was happy with it. I don't know how well he did with sales.
JIC: Around that time you formed Sexteto Café, but you'd previously recorded the Sexteto Café album Café Salsa (1997 on PCP Records) in Colombia.
DL: The idea of having a sexteto has been running around in my mind since the time of Conjunto Renacer.
JIC: You arguably made the first Joe Cuba Sextet-type recording in Colombia when you played vibes on the single "Que Suerte Tiene El" / "Dudas De Mi" by Siglo 21 in 1993 on Discos CMA.
DL: When I was at university finishing my studies, I was producing for companies and, as the idea had always been there, I said: "Now I've got some money, I'm going to do these two songs, and see what happens." All the musicians who participated in the project were excited about the idea. I met this guy called Amortegui who was a singer. He wasn't a salsa singer; he was classically trained as an opera singer. So when you listen to his voice, it might sound a bit different. But for me it was a way of going to see if it was going to work or not. We did the recording with guys I was working in the recording sessions with. You know, guys from Grupo Niche: Carlos Vivas played piano; José Aguirre, one of the trumpet players from Niche, their musical director for a period, gave it a try on the bass; William Ospino played conga; William Valdés, who used to play with Guayacán, played timbales; Fredy Colorado, who was the conga player with Conjunto Renacer, played bongo. The chorus was William García, Carlos Romero and Omar Agredo. We recorded it at Paranova Films studio, which was the main studio in Cali at the time. I'm happy with the result. I made some mistakes in the arrangements. As a project, and as a sound, it like planted the seed that became Sexteto Café a few years later.
JIC: Was the Siglo 21 single your first production?
DL: Let's say it was. I directed everyone.
JIC: You were the boss?
DL: Yes, a hundred percent.
JIC: You believe this was the first Joe Cuba Sextet-type recording made in Cali?
DL: I would say in Colombia. When I recorded the Sexteto Café album Café Salsa, I included the song on the A side, "Que Suerte Tiene El."
JIC: You've mentioned to me before that vibraphones are fairly scarce in Colombia.
DL: Yeah, it's very rare to find them.
JIC: So how did you acquire one?
DL: How I got into the vibraphone is a very long story. During a tour of Colombia, I met this guy at a performance. He came straight to me and said: "Listen, I've got an instrument in my house I'd like to exchange for another instrument." I didn't pay much attention to him at the time. Two or three years later, I met him again. And he came back to me and said: "Listen, do you remember I talked to you about making an exchange?" He didn't even know what the instrument was called. So I went to his place, and I saw this very old vibraphone. It's a make called Trixson, an old German vibraphone. I decided to take it. I bought the guy a trumpet; and he was fascinated with the trumpet I gave him. I took the vibraphone and had to do very hard work on it to get it in tune, and replace some pieces. It was there for me.
JIC: Presumably you had to teach yourself all the skills, as vibraphones were so scarce in Colombia?
DL: Fortunately, I was at the university at the time and there was a vibraphone in the percussion section I used to practice on. So I had to analyse all the parts and mechanics of the instrument, and how it worked, so I could do some work on the one I got.
JIC: So having acquired this old vibraphone, was this the one you used some years ago on the first the Sexteto Café recording?
DL: Yes, it was the one I used on that album.
JIC: Tell me how you came to make Café Salsa?
DL: The moment I decided to do that album was after finishing the Los Titanes production 6a. Avenida (1994 on Vedisco / Fuentes), because I had the money to spend. When I recorded it, I wasn't thinking of releasing it. It was something I wanted to do to please myself.
JIC: Then, a little while after you came here, the recording was issued by a small UK label, wasn't it?
DL: Yeah. It was a guy I met. I said to him: "I've got this recording I made in Colombia. Let's release it." I think this recording helped establish Sexteto Café as a band. Actually, I'm really happy with it because it showed me it was possible to do it. When it was released, I got really positive statements from people. It opened the door for the band, not only in the UK, even in Europe. I got distribution with Stern's Records, so I know some people in Europe received the album. I've been receiving calls from there and I've seen the album for sale on the internet. It's really positive.
JIC: So, even though Sexteto Café were at the time the only group using, but updating, the Joe Cuba Sextet format, what should come along but Son Boricua, queering your pitch?
DL: Right. I don't know if I mentioned to you that I might have triggered the Son Boricua phenomenon, because when I got to the UK the project was offered to Humberto Corredor. But he said he didn't like it because the sound wasn't in use anymore. Then, a year or two after, Son Boricua was in the market. They didn't copy anything from me, but I may have triggered the project.
JIC: Having just interviewed José Mangual Jr. (See José Mangual Jr.: Living By The Creed Of Rhythm by John Child, March 21, 2004), I learnt from him that it was Humberto who put the concept to him. (Laughter)
JIC: At first, José wasn't interested because his thing was all about horns; it was trumpets and trombones. But he recalled attending a gig with his dad during his childhood where there were some absolutely monstrous performers on the bill, like Tito Rodríguez and Vicentico Valdés with their massive bands, who were very impressive. But what made the biggest impact on him, despite their size, was the Joe Cuba Sextet because of their sheer swing. So he thought, I'll give a sexteto a go.
DL: One of the memories I've got from all those nights in Juanchito, is that every time a Joe Cuba record was played, nobody stayed in their seats. Everybody went on to the dance floor to dance to "A Las Seis" or "Oriente." So I wanted a band like that, a band where nobody can stay in their seats. That's basically what you want to achieve.
JIC: Bearing in mind that you did original material on your first album and the unreleased Latin DNA, I was surprised when I first put Salsa Pa' Ti on, because I had no track information, that you were doing interpretations of classic songs.
DL: I used to play all the selections at live gigs, but I just played them like the originals. But I always used to think that something was missing. I really love the original version of "El Titere" by Louie Ramírez. But it's just two minutes long.
JIC: When you say the original, which one are you thinking of? Because he recorded it at least three times.
DL: The old one on Vibes Galore (1966 on Alegre). The song is too short and it doesn't have any mambos in it. It's like you're missing something. I don't think he got it right with the second version.
JIC: Which album are you thinking of when you say the second version?
DL: A Tribute To Cal Tjader (1987 on Caimán).
JIC: He did another version on Ali Baba (1968 on Fania).
DL: I don't remember that one, and I don't know how good it is.
JIC: Which version of "Mango Mangüe" inspired your interpretation on Salsa Pa' Ti?
DL: It was a version by Niño Rivera. There is also a version by Grupo Mango from Venezuela which is similar to the way I do it. But theirs was extremely jazzy. I kept solos to a minimum on the album. I wanted to play melodies.
JIC: That's what struck me; solos are at a minimum. It's really only "Salsa Pa' Ti" that's got brief solos from most of the musicians. There's not even a piano solo on the album.
DL: I didn't want any solos, actually. People really want to dance. When a piano solo comes, you need to pull the percussion down and give space to the piano. I wanted to avoid that to keep people dancing.
JIC: Before we started talking about the tracks, one of my initial questions was going to be: What was your philosophy behind the album?
DL: The intention was to make an album for dancers. People want to dance to this music. If I make it complicated, it's not going to get to the public. I think a band from London can make it, but only if they do the right thing. Nobody from here has actually done it yet. It's a shame.
JIC: Not strictly. I suppose you could say Jesús Alemañy was based here, but his productions were made in Cuba.
DL: He was there at the right time, because Cuba was happening. I think Jimmy le Messurier's got a really good album (Salsa Feeling '02 by Jimmy Le M & Orquesta La Clave de Londres on International Records). I don't know if anyone is pushing it.
JIC: It's being handled by Ian Morrison of International Records (go to: http://www.international-records.com). But it suffers like any independent production in the salsa field. It can only get as big a push as those with limited means can give it.
DL: I think the whole of Salsa Pa' Ti is easy. It's got its own identity, which I think is pretty important.
JIC: How would you describe this identity?
DL: Let's say the tracks are like twin brothers of the originals, but they are independent. With the exception of "La Ruñidera" and "El Negro Bembon," you can say the rest are twins of the originals, but they don't look the same.
JIC: How do you think your contribution has distinguished the songs from the originals?
DL: I think the songs have got their own personality. Despite the fact they are similar to the originals, you can say they are not copies. If you compare, for example, "El Titere," it has got new mambos the original does not have. The harmonics are treated a bit differently. You notice straightaway that it's a new version based on the original. The vocal inspirations are completely different. That's something I really tried to do.
JIC: How did the different personality traits come about? Did you deliberately sit down and think about the changes?
JIC: Are there any elements that evolved from performance?
DL: Yeah, let's say the songs were quite mature, because I've been playing them for quite a long time. Actually I knew what I didn't like about them from the moment I started writing the arrangements. For example, if you listen to "Barquillero," the arrangement is exactly the same as the original from Bailadores (1965 on Tico) by Joe Cuba. The exposition of the song is exactly the same it's quite short but I use a second harmony to make it more interesting. I don't think anyone can sing it better than Cheo Feliciano. So to try to copy him would have killed the song. I allowed Fernando Alvares to sing it his way. The way that Cheo Feliciano sang the song was in his brain like a stone sculpture. So I couldn't change it a lot. I said to him: "OK, let's try to sing another harmony." And I played with the stereo of the song. So in a sense it sounds really different, but it's sort of the way Cheo sang the song. I changed the inspirations completely and made a longer version. I think it works. I play with the bass to make it sound funky without losing the salsa sound.
JIC: Who is the bass player?
DL: Elpidio Caicedo. I take care of every detail. One of the arrangements I'm really proud of is "El Negro Bembon." I really like the song, and so far there have been so many versions. I think Ismael Rivera recorded two versions with the same arrangement (Baile Con Cortijo y su Combo late '50s on Seeco and Juntos Otra Vez '74, a reunion of original combo remaking early hits, reissued '82 as Ismael Rivera Sonero No. 1, both on Coco). Then there was Los Hijos De Los Celebres with Apollo Sound (Los Hijos De Los Celebres ' 98 on Musical Productions), but it has the same arrangement.
JIC: And others have done it as well. Celia Cruz did a version (Tributo A Ismael Rivera '92 on Vaya). Son Boricua did a version (Musical A Cortijo - Rivera '00 on Cobo). More recently, there was a marvelous version by Tito Allen (Tito Allen & Rafaelito Cortijo: Tributo Al Maestro, Rafael Cortijo '02 on Croman Caribe)
DL: I think the Son Boricua is a very good arrangement, but I didn't like the way Jimmy Sabater sang the song. I think it's quite interesting to compare the Son Boricua and Sexteto Café arrangements. The Son Boricua is different from the original, but it sticks quite close in some ways. The guy sang the song in his own way. I think I did the opposite. I stick the singer to the original, but I completely changed the harmonic concept of the song. It sounds very far from the original.
JIC: So this is a twin that least sounds like the original?
DL: Yeah, it's like a new proposal. I didn't keep any of the music lines from the original. The only thing I kept from the original was the "Funeral March" phrase. The singer kept the original melody exactly. I think it's a good balance.
JIC: So you virtually stripped the whole thing down and rebuilt it?
DL: Yeah, I didn't keep anything except that phrase. I really like "La Ruñidera."
JIC: Which version was your inspiration?
DL: The only version I have heard is the Nacho Sanabria (available on 15 Grandes Exitos Originales '94 on Multinational Inc.).
JIC: I thought so, but it's been recorded numerous times.
DL: I didn't like the inspirations on the Nacho version. They are very poor. So I changed all of that. He re-recorded the song, but kept the original inspirations exactly the same. I think they just tried to get a better sound quality.
JIC: I love that album (14 Grandes Exitos De Nacho Sanabria '94 on HG Productions).
DL: The song is really kicking. I thought of Colombia when I did this song. If you look at the first Sexteto Café album, there is a song called "Guanguancó En Mi Barrio." I found it curious that the arrangements sound very similar. The structures of the arrangements are actually the same. In a way, the three Sexteto Café albums so far sound identical, which I find positive, because it's like getting an identity.
JIC: Please carry on telling me about the tracks?
DL: "Yo No Tengo Amigo" is an old Joe Cuba number. It comes from Comin' At You (1964 on Seeco). I basically kept the arrangement very similar to the original. I added a new mambo and I changed the coro, because I think the Joe Cuba coro doesn't have anything to do with the song. I organised a coro that really fits with what the lead vocalist Alfonso de Jesús sings. Alfonso did a magnificent interpretation of the song. I'm really proud of the way he sang it. He got it right!
JIC: Alfonso also sang lead on "Sabroso"?
DL: Half the song, yeah. He's like a guest on the album. I'm really proud of the album. It's the first recording for most of the guys.
JIC: You've told me in the past that your vibes playing inspirations are Cal Tjader, Louie Ramírez and Bobby Montez. But to my mind, you have developed your own voice. You say Salsa Pa' Ti lacks solos, but listening to your vibes playing, it's almost as if your embellishments to the melodies are an ongoing solo element. Presumably you've written these things?
DL: Yeah, yeah. They're written.
JIC: They come across as being improvised.
DL: Right. You know why? They are so natural. They were like when you're cooking: you suddenly feel the rice needs a bit more salt. You're not thinking of the recipe. The recipe says it's two spoons, but you think it is two spoons plus a little more. So when you taste the rice, it tastes really the way it has to be: really natural to you. I think the phrases I play fit just like the missing pieces in a puzzle.
JIC: You actually write all this down as charts?
DL: Yeah, everything.
JIC: That's amazing.
DL: I'm pleased to hear that. You don't need to know about music to feel that it's nice or something is in the wrong place. I basically wanted it to sound easy.
JIC: Tell me about the title track "Salsa Pa' Ti"?
DL: I found this song when I went to play in this remote town in Chocó on the Pacific coast. It's always an ordeal to get to this isolated town. I went into this record shop, and there was this LP with all vibraphones on it, so I bought it. The sound quality was extremely bad, but I had the album and the song was there. I really liked the song, and I said to myself: "One day, I'll record this song." But there were no credits.
JIC: Was it a pirate?
DL: Yes, a pirate. On the cover was a woman in a bikini with a magician's hat and a wand. And on her bottom there was "LP." There were no credits, just the name of the songs. I thought it was Tito Puente, but I'm told it's Pete Terrace.
JIC: Tell me about the use of electric guitar on "Salsa Pa' Ti"?
DL: I invited this guy I met a few years ago, Hugo Elizalde. He's a Mexican guy. I think he's a tremendous player. When I finished the arrangement, which I kept close to the original, I decided to have percussion solos but not a vibes solo. So I thought: "What should it be?" I really like "Vigilante" from Héctor Lavoe and Willie Colón (from Vigilante '83 on Fania). I love that song and the electric guitar solo played by George Wodenius. We spent hours looking for the electric guitar sound we wanted for this song. Actually the first sound he played me was the one we used. I told him that I didn't want a Santana sound.
JIC: And "Salsa Pa' Ti" became the title track of the album, which is very apt because you've explained that the CD is for the dancers. Here's salsa for you.
DL: Yeah, that's basically it. I was looking for a simple name, and I think this fits the concept of the album. It couldn't be better.
JIC: Speaking again of "El Titere." I know Louie Ramírez is one of your inspirations. Was there a feeling of doing one for Louie?
DL: Not really. I didn't feel it like that. Actually, I listen to the man every day.
JIC: Really. Any particular album?
DL: I like his Sexy Salsa. He kept it so simple. It's so nice.
JIC: It's interesting the things you listen to.
JIC: It's an album I wouldn't think of putting on.
DL: Really. (Laughter)
JIC: Talking to you makes me want to dig it out. There were two volumes (Sexy Salsa '89 and Sexy Salsa Vol. 2 '92, both on The Mayor). Which one do you listen to?
DL: Both. I think they are just the right amount of music that is required. I've got this DVD of Bobby Valentín, ¡En Vivo! 35 Aniversario Vuelve A La Carcel (2003 on Bronco). You know, José Lugo is a fantastic piano player. But as soon as Papo Lucca comes on and plays, you just feel: that is the guy. He plays so beautifully, but he doesn't play too much. He's playing what's required, and that's it. For example, if you compare Tito Puente and Louie Ramírez, I think Tito Puente is by far the better vibes player. But I think Tito Puente doesn't swing. Louie Ramírez is the sort of guy who makes you want to play because his lines are so simple and so beautiful. You want to say: "I can play like that." But it's not that you can play like that. He makes you want to play.
JIC: Have you added any other vibes players to your list of inspirations?
DL: There are lots of old heroes I like. I loved this album Tjaderized by Dave Samuels (1998 on Verve). Milt Jackson, god!
JIC: A track we haven't talked about yet is "Sabroso."
DL: That's an interesting song. Do you remember an album by this group called Conjunto Caimito?
JIC: On Laslos? Yeah. If features one of my favourite singers, Luis "El Tirano" Rodríguez.
DL: The song is from that album (Conjunto Caimito '85 on Laslos). They made a few mistakes in the recording, but it's a great song. It's so simple, but it's a great song. It's the heavy one on the album.
JIC: Let's talk about the musicians on Salsa Pa' Ti?
DL: I kept the playing tightly arranged, but I was more lenient with the bass and percussion.
JIC: So the bass player, Elpidio Caicedo, had more freedom. Tell me more about him?
DL: He's from Buenaventura. His brother Beto Caicedo used to sing with Grupo Niche. He sang "La Carcel" on their album A Prueba De Fuego (1997 on Sony Tropical). Beto also used to sing with Proyecto Omega along with Virgilio Hurtado. Virgilio's brother Orlando Hurtado replaced Carlos Romero in Conjunto Renacer in 1992 and recorded with Los Del Caney and Orquesta Antifaz. I think Elpidio recorded with Sandunga, Atrato River and Los Nemus del Pacifico. He played on a few songs on Alex Wilson's first album (Afro-Saxon '98 on Candid Big City). He knows what he's doing. I was worried about the percussionists when I started the album. I think this is a weak point with the bands in the UK.
JIC: Let's talk about the percussion section now.
DL: Armando Rivas came to the UK three years ago from Cali. He started here; he didn't play before in Cali. The guy developed very quickly, and the level he has gotten to now is amazing. He recorded the congas and the maracas. This is his very first recording.
JIC: Just as an aside: How did you record the album? Did you record each musician separately or as an ensemble?
DL: Some of the percussion we did together to get the spirit. We did the backing tracks together, of course.
JIC: So the conga, timbales, bongo and bass were recorded together. What about the piano?
JIC: Then the other instruments were added separately?
DL: Yes. I did the percussion section with the bass, and then I corrected what I didn't like separately. I overdubbed some little things, but I wanted to keep the overall spirit there.
JIC: Tell me about the timbalero Jorge Posada?
DL: He used to play with Roberto Pla. I invited him to play on four songs. He's a good player.
JIC: And the other timbalero and percussionist Alberto Gutiérrez?
DL: He's a young guy. I think he's 17 or 18. I think he's going to be someone to talk about in the future. He's a good player. He played solos on "Salsa Pa' Ti," "El Titere" and "Barquillero."
JIC: The bongosero Julio "Chencho" Alarcon?
DL: He was on the previous album.
JIC: Latin DNA, not the one before?
DL: Just Latin DNA.
JIC: Anna Gillespie plays piano.
DL: Anna is classically trained and works on the contemporary dance scene. She joined Sexteto Café in 1998 and is very interested in the Colombian style of salsa piano.
JIC: Tell me about the lead vocalist Fernando Alvares?
DL: We saw each other around in Cali, but we weren't friends. When he arrived in London three years ago, I got a cancellation from the Venezuelan singer Carlos Peña. Someone told me Fernando was here. I said: "Fernando come and play." He just came and sang at the gig. Since then we've been playing together. This is his first recording and we're excited about that.
JIC: What about the guests? You mentioned Alfonso de Jesús earlier. He's been around for some while. I understand he performed with Joe Arroyo.
DL: I think so, yeah.
JIC: And Lisandro Zapata guests in the coro.
DL: Lisandro is a guy who's been around for a long time. He's the bass player with Conjunto Palenque. Back in Colombia in the late '70s he played bass and sang on the Francisco Zumaqué production called Macumbia. He also used to play with the band of Jimmy Salcedo on TV. He came here because he wanted to be involved in pop music. I really like his voice.
JIC: In the current climate with all these bands like Sonora Carruseles, Los Soneros del Barrio and Tabaco y Ron doing cover versions of classic and standard salsa tunes, why are you doing the same? Particularly when you have demonstrated that you have got a considerable flair for writing original material.
DL: It's basically what the market expects at the moment. It would be difficult to offer new stuff, especially with the vibraphone. Son Boricua were in the market, despite the fact that they came after Sexteto Café. But I didn't have the same luck. I decided to do these classic songs, but I'm going to offer something else. Something I believe Sonora Carruseles, Quinto Mayor and Yembeké Orquesta aren't doing. They just copy the originals.
JIC: At least one of the bands I mentioned doesn't copy. For instance, Los Soneros del Barrio do what Frankie Vázquez describes as "old tunes with a new funk" (see the Descarga Journal Archives for the article Frankly Frankie, The Reluctant Sonero Del Barrio by John Child and David Barton December 29, 1999).
DL: Yeah, but there is another thing. I'm convinced that there are some songs that don't allow themselves to be touched. For example, the version of "Vine Pa' Echar Candela" by Johnny Polanco (from Pa'l Bailador '01 on Morrowland). If you ask me, I'll always go to the Ray Barretto version (from Barretto '75 on Fania).
JIC: You are aware that, particularly as Salsa Pa' Ti appears to be an album of cover versions, that it will be compared with the work of Son Boricua. How will you fend off criticism?
DL: That's something I will have to learn to deal with. The only thing I'm afraid of is Colombia, because here they only know the hit "Volare" (from Musical A Cortijo - Rivera '00 on Cobo). The most difficult public for me to please are the Colombians.
JIC: If I were to ask you for a sound-bite to encapsulate what you are trying to achieve with this album, what would it be?
DL: It's a look back with new eyes.
JIC: What prompted your desire to do that at this particular time?
DL: That's an interesting question. I like to listen to the old songs. The salsa I buy is from the '70s and '80s. I don't really like the new stuff. So I want to try to create my own space with the thing I like.
JIC: You're a young man of 36, but you like older music.
DL: Yeah, I love it. There are some interesting things among the new stuff, but most of the music is done for commercial purposes. I'm not denying myself the new thing; it's just that when the purpose is different, the result's different. One of my deep desires is to have a classic one day.
JIC: You don't think you've achieved that yet?
DL: I don't think so. I've done really good arrangements. When I look back, there are some I'm really proud of. You want to have a hit, but beyond that you want to have a classic.
JIC: You know about my view about the modern classic status of your production Pinceladas de Amor with Kike Harvey. If you were to shut up shop now, that would be a legacy to be proud of.
DL: I'm proud of that.
JIC: It's a shame that it's not more widely recognised.
DL: It's a very nice feeling that some people recognise it.
JIC: Do you want to tell me about your 2000 production Latin DNA that hasn't been released yet?
DL: I think that recording has to be released at some point, because there are some great songs on it. Or I might include the songs in future Sexteto Café albums.
JIC: I remember you telling me that while you were in Colombia, you kept being pestered by a certain Lise Waxer?
DL: Oh, yeah, yeah
JIC: It turned that she wrote an exceptional book on the history of salsa in Cali called The City of Musical Memory. Could you tell me more?
DL: Yes, it's fantastic. When I found out about the book a few months ago, I was really surprised. Because the memories I had about her was this gringa being everywhere and asking questions that people just don't ask; saying:
Why do you do this? Why do you do that? How do you do this? What do you think of this? What do you think of that?
Sometimes when we were in recording sessions, she would get into the music score and ask why you did this sort of progression. And you'd say: "Why does this woman want to know this?" This hippie, because that's the way she looked. She was asking all these funny questions in this funny Spanish accent. So I was surprised about the book, and it's an exceptional book. The way she has conducted the book is amazing. I think it's a big shame that the book isn't in Spanish. I don't know if the people that knew her in Cali are going to be able to read it, because there are loads of details about our city, our culture, and our memories. I think people in Cali are really going to appreciate what she wrote.
JIC: Lise Waxer's use of the title The City of Musical Memory refers to this unique thing about Cali, in that there's a community of people there who have been preoccupied with salsa recordings for a number of decades.
DL: Yeah, yeah, that's true.
JIC: Would you like to comment?
DL: Before getting into the book, I remember talking to the guys in Sexteto Café about the fact that some people don't understand that we can sit down and listen to music. Because for some people, this music is just related to the dance floor or they just listen to it when they go to dance. They don't understand how we can just sit and just listen, and listen to this music really loud and really enjoy the detail. This is basically something we've been doing all our lives.
JIC: Isn't it also about exchanging information about the music and possession of information and knowledge being symbolic of your prowess?
DL: Yeah, that's true. But, it's like this John, if you're a teenager, and you want to go out and meet girls you NEED to know this.
JIC: Ahh. So you have to impress the girls with your knowledge?
DL: Of course. Because they know, too. It's something you have to know. If you say to a girl: "Please, I want to listen to some Sonora Poñcena of the '70s." You have to give the title. It's part of the culture.
JIC: And she would think poorly of you if you didn't know the musicians who were playing on a record?
DL: Yes, of course, definitely. You're out, you know. It's like when you're in the neighbourhood and you don't have the latest record. It's like you're out all the time. Or if you like any band that people don't really like. It's like you're not the one.
JIC: Another thing I find fascinating about Cali is that it's not just about what's the latest release, it's about a knowledge and appreciation of the history of the music.
DL: Yes, definitely.
JIC: And discovering rarities is also an important thing.
DL: Yeah, it is. For example, it's like this John. When I discovered the Beatles' music, the first time I listened to the Beatles, was when John Lennon died. I remember this commercial on TV about jeans. The commercial was the Beatles playing "Hey Jude," and suddenly the jeans appeared on TV and it said: "As original as their music." That's what the commercial was about. Suddenly I felt I needed to know more about this band. So I got the record that was played on TV, but I had to get the previous records in order to know. And some rarities, and some information about the guys: where they were born, their influences, all about them. So it's something you do, and it belongs to you more, which is like tropical music in Colombia, and salsa music. So if you get a record you like, or a singer you like, you want to see what else this guy has been singing, or which band this guy has been singing with. You need to get the previous recordings and go into the whole history.
JIC: It sounds like a whole city of people like me!
DL: For example, if you go to a nightclub in Cali, suddenly the deejay will say: "The one who tells me the trumpet player on this song will get free drinks all night." Things like that. They also like to show off the strange recordings they have collected.
JIC: Is this tradition still strong?
DL: Oh yeah.
JIC: Are there any signs that it is dying out?
DL: Oh no, no, no. Because the music is there and this is basically a phenomenon of our music. And it has prevailed over fashions, because the music is there.
JIC: Even though there have been pressures to dumb-down by way of the salsa romántica pretty boy thing and new generations coming up, are you saying that Cali has not been swayed from perpetuating this body of knowledge it has developed?
DL: How I analyse this is that it's a phenomenon you can even see here with deejays in London. They're only playing new releases, but as soon as they discover a very good old song they become fascinated with it and start playing it as if it was a new discovery. And it's a song from 20 or 30 years ago. This is what is happening with the new generations. They got into salsa because of the new artists, because of the publicity. But they look back and when they find something that is good for them, they just have to go in there.
JIC: Long live Cali then.
JIC: Another book I know you admire considerably is César Miguel Rondón's El Libro de la Salsa published in Caracas in 1980.
DL: I like the book because the guy was in the middle of the middle of the phenomenon. He was with the artists and talked to them. And the guy has got a huge knowledge. I was in secondary school when I discovered the book. That was around 1984/85. It was the most serious book about the music and it was really accurate. I really like the way the guy offers you a basic discography which no other book had done up to that time. The guy made me buy loads of records in order to agree or disagree with what he was saying. Most of the time I disagree with what he's saying. But how he orders the facts and describes the period, recordings and what happened, is really clever.
JIC: So in terms of what has been written about salsa, which isn't a great deal, the two books you would highly recommend are César Miguel Rondón's El Libro de la Salsa and Lise Waxer's The City of Musical Memory?
DL: Oh yeah, definitely. When I was in Cuba, I met a guy called Eduardo Rosillo who said that Helio Orovio's Diccionario de la Música Cubana (translated into English as Cuban Music from A to Z by Helio Orovio; published in 2004 by Duke University Press) is disappointing. Eduardo Rosillo worked for Radio Progreso and had lots of radio time. He said to me: "Dorancé, I don't like the book and I think the book is dangerous for the history of Cuban music. And I'm going to tell you two little things, as I want you to understand what I'm saying." First of all, he took me to one of these narrow streets in Havana. We arrived in this neighbourhood and Eduardo went into the middle of the street and shouted: "Tito." He shouted two or three times. And this Tito came. He was a really old guy. It was Tito Gómez. He said: "Tito, what do you think of Helio Orovio's book?" And he said: "Oh, that man, he's a motherfucker." He said: "Why Tito?" "Listen, I don't care if the guy wrote down that I have 90, 80 or 70 years. I don't mind about that. But I feel embarrassed for my mother because the date that man said I was born; my mother was nine years old! So I really feel embarrassed." So Eduardo said: "You see, if the man who wrote the biography of Tito Gómez didn't bother to come to him and ask him about these details when the man is alive, just suppose the details he wrote about the people he didnt know? Because they are not around any more." So it's not a serious book from that point of view. Then we went to someone else and talked about Miguelito Valdés and Cascarita (Orlando Guerra). What happened is that he wrote more in the book about Cascarita than about Miguelito Valdés. So because of the amount of writing, people might think Cascarita was more important than Miguelito Valdés.
JIC: I wondered whether that for politically correct reasons in Cuba, artists that were successful outside Cuba tended to get either left out or underrepresented in the book. Obviously, it's no surprise that Celia Cruz is not in there at all. I'm thinking of the first edition (published in 1981 by Editorial Letras Cubanas in Havana); I haven't seen the second edition.
DL: I think you should consider that too. I remember when I went to Cuba for the first time in 1993; I was surprised loads of people didn't know anything about Celia Cruz. They didn't know anything about La Sonora Matancera.
(NOTE: The 2004 English edition, Cuban Music from A to Z by Helio Orovio, which I first became aware of five months after this interview, does include Celia Cruz as well as La Sonora Matancera which were both absent from the 1981 edition. It also adds other successful US-based Cuban artists like Gloria Estefan and Willy Chirino and strikes an appropriate balance in terms of the respective space devoted to Miguelito Valdés and Cascarita. Ironically, however, despite the fact that Tito Gómez died on October 14, 2000 -- according to the liner notes of The Last Jam Session - La Ultima Descarga: Tito Gomez & Orestes Macias '01 on WS Latino --, his demise is not mentioned in his entry. Whilst, for example, the entry for the current Cubop recording artist Francisco Aguabella records: died (?)!)
JIC: I suppose that demonstrates how successful the Cuban authorities have been in erasing them from history, which is a considerable pity.
DL: Oh, yeah, definitely. I remember that when I was there, I went to the National School of Art. We were pushing to do a discography of salsa and take it to this school. But, in the end, there was a load of politics involved and we couldn't make it happen.
JIC: You've been away from Colombia now for eight years. What are your views about the way the Colombian music scene has developed while you've been away?
DL: Through the recordings I've been getting, what I've noticed is that there's a big influence of Puerto Rican salsa. That's a sound we've been trying to imitate through the years. The closer we get to that sound, the more the sales go down. People in other latitudes like the sound of Colombian salsa. I don't know if you agree with me?
JIC: If by Puerto Rican salsa you mean the salsa romántica variant of it
DL: Yeah, mainly that.
JIC: There was that tremendous boom of Colombian salsa during the 1980s. Then when the salsa romántica thing took off, which was coming mainly out of Puerto Rico, Colombia started emulating it. Distinctive sounding Colombian bands like Niche, Grupo Caneo, who got a deal with RMM, and La Misma Gente felt this obligation to pick up on the salsa romántica sound and modified their approach to take this on board. Some constructed their own distinct variant of it, like Jairo Varela. Others simply tried to copy it. I don't know if you think this is a fair summary?
DL: I agree one hundred percent with you. It's hard to say really; times change and sometimes sounds are really successful and sometimes not. I remember how successful Colombian music was in the late '80s to middle '90s. I don't know if it was the musician's fault or just the companies putting pressure on the musicians to change the sound. But the recent album A Conciencia by Orquesta Antifaz (2003 on Changüi) is really encouraging to me.
JIC: That period in Puerto Rico in the middle '80s, just before the salsa romántica thing happened, produced some of the most exceptional swinging salsa by bands like Willie Rosario, Mulenze, Mario Ortiz and Bobby Valentín. For me, Antifaz are not a copycat band, like so many out of Colombia these days, but their sound harks back to that heyday of Mulenze from the mid-'80s.
DL: I was really excited listening to their album because it was like seeing the way things should be done. I hope the guys do well.
JIC: Tell me about the guys involved in Orquesta Antifaz?
DL: The piano player and producer, Andrés Gómez, is a new guy. I think he's got a lot to deliver. I think he's going to be a guy to talk about in a few years time.
JIC: I understand that you've got personal knowledge of the singers with the band?
DL: For a period Orlando Hurtado was a singer with Conjunto Renacer. When Carlos Romero and Omar Agreda left, I stayed with the band a little bit and Orlando was the singer. His brother, Virgilio Hurtado, was the singer with Proyecto Omega and then he went to Los Del Caney for the Exitos de Cuba album I produced for Fuentes. I was really surprised to see him with Antifaz. He's got a really mature voice now and a developed style. The other singer, Diego Giraldo, is the brother of Arturo Giraldo who used to sing with a band called Farallones. One of Arturo's songs was recorded by Grupo Fascinación, a tribute to the 450 year anniversary of Cali's founding ("Cali
450 Años" appears on Grupo Fascinación's 1986 album Salsa Vice on Rico). This guy used to be a singer with this kiddy band called La Charanguita.
JIC: What's your take on other recent material coming out of Colombia?
DL: La Suprema Corte's Siempre Sonando! (2003 on Changüi; aka Supremos Exitos! '02 on Sonolux) was fantastic.
JIC: Andrés Gómez was also involved in that.
DL: Yes, he played piano. I think Andrés Viáfara, the leader of La Suprema Corte, has been one of the cleverest musicians in the last 10 years because he's been really clear about what he wants. If you look through the previous three albums by Suprema Corte, his direction has been really clear. He's been one of the most successful Grupo Niche members.
JIC: What do you make of what's been coming out of the stable of Diego Galé?
DL: Let me tell you what I think about this. He's a fantastic percussion player, there's no doubt about it. But in his role as a producer, he's one those musicians who has really been influenced by the Grupo Niche sound. If you look through the whole series of Grupo Galé albums, he's basically been like a shadow of Grupo Niche. If you compare one of the Niche albums with the Grupo Galé album he produced at the time, he's trying to copy the sound. So much so that he even made an album that sounds exactly like Grupo Niche, his tribute to Jairo Varela (Homenaje Al Grupo Niche: Con Los Grandes De La Salsa '02 on Codiscos). That really showed you what the guy's looking for with all these carbon copies of hits.
JIC: Which has been manifested in a number of different forms, hasn't it?
DL: Yes, Sonora Carruseles, Quinto Mayor, Yembeké Orquesta, Conjunto Criollo and The New York Sextet. He also produced La Son Charanga (Salsa y Charanga '00, followed-up by Descarga y Tumbao '03, both on Latino's & Co.).
JIC: Would you like to specifically comment about the album The New York Sextet (2003 on Exclusivo)? In a way, that CD encroaches on your territory.
DL: What I believe is that when you're a fisherman, you're always waiting for the fish to jump. And you go to fish there to see if you can catch any. So, I suppose because of the success of Son Boricua, he decided to do something like that. I think the versions are quite poor if you compare them with the original Sexteto Juventud songs.
JIC: You've mentioned to me elsewhere that he doesn't use a genuine vibraphone on The New York Sextet.
DL: No, it's not, it's a synthesizer played by the pianists Pablo Grajales and Eddy González.
JIC: In connection with Diego Galé, you've mentioned Grupo Niche, who have undoubtedly been the most successful band to come out of Colombia.
DL: Oh, yes, definitely.
JIC: What do you make of their current situation?
DL: It's funny with Niche, John, because when salsa fans in Cali get together to listen to music, they never play Grupo Niche. Maybe they'll play the old version of "Buenaventura y Caney" (from Querer Es Poder '81 on Codiscos), maybe. We go to listen to Larry Harlow, Sonora Ponceña, Impacto Crea, all these bands; we will go more into Guayacán or maybe Orquesta Sandunga that are more heavy salsa, rather than Niche. Niche are seen as having really gotten into the more commercial stuff.
JIC: Are you saying that Niche don't get played, or it's stuff from their earlier period that's more likely to get played?
DL: At the salsotecas, it's the earlier stuff. I think it was more genuine.
(NOTE: Salsotecas are bars primarily catering to patrons who listen to salsa, especially rare and exclusive salsa dura cuts. However, some salsotecas also include a dance floor.)
JIC: I think the album that marked a watershed for Niche in terms of their sound was Sutil Y Contundente (1989 on CBS).
DL: Sutil Y Contundente was what I was thinking about, yeah. That was definitely the album to please the market.
JIC: Then there was Cielo De Tambores (1990 on CBS).
DL: Cielo De Tambores, yeah. Despite the fact that I think that it's a good album.
JIC: I think it's a wonderful album. But it did mark the beginning of a departure.
JIC: What about Guayacán?
DL: I really like their first two albums (Llegó La Hora De La Verdad '86 and Que La Sangre Alborota '87, both originally issued on Sonolux). I think they're great, especially the second one. Definitely "Cocorobe" (from La Más Bella '90 on FM / TH-Rodven). I really like the one in which they play "Almendra" (Marcando La Diferencia '95 on RMM / Sony). They invited Papo Lucca. There are these new guys; they sing "Pau Pau."
JIC: My favourite Guayacán is their 5th anniversary one (5 Años: Aferrados Al Sabor '91 on FM) with a wonderful version of "Lindo Yambú" (entitled "Guaguancó Callejero").
DL: Right. That's a good one. I think the problem with Guayacán is that Alexis Lozano didn't really define a sound. You listen to a Guayacán album, and then the next one is a completely different band. When he got into these tropical medleys (for example, Como En Un Baile'96 on Fonovisa Tropical and Nadie Nos Quita Lo Bailao '98 on FM), all the Guayacán fans felt betrayed by the band.
JIC: That's interesting. Whereas, from his point of view, I suppose he felt he was going back to the roots?
DL: No, he was basically going for the sales because he reached the white people living in the center of the country. He got into the clubs and all the places he never performed at before.
JIC: So he wasn't necessarily compromising in terms of salsa, he was betraying his class and his race.
DL: His roots. Yes, definitely. And then he got these two Cuban singers and it was even worse. Their style of singing didn't match.
JIC: I liked De Nuevo En La Salsa (1999 on Musart / FM), his return to salsa.
DL: Yeah, that's a good one. When I listen to Guayacán, I just listen to their first two albums. I think they're great.
JIC: Is there anything you would like to add about the current music coming out of Colombia?
DL: I think that Orquesta Antifaz and all the followers of that style are going to get some recognition. I think it's what we've been waiting for, because Colombian salsa was going nowhere. It was stuck. Especially all this Medellín salsa.
JIC: Am I right in believing that a lot of the songs that are being recycled in Diego Galé's copycat productions have come out of the salsoteca scene?
DL: Oh, yeah, definitely. But what is funny is that these versions are not being played. I suppose, knowing Diego, he just discovers songs. It's like you play me Sonora Ponceña's "Fuego En El 23," and I've never heard it, and I say: "Wow, that's the song I want to do in order to sell it." But, for example, people in Cali won't play it, unless it's a very good version.
JIC: You remember when loads and loads of Colombian pirate compilation CDs started appearing in the mid-'90s? I assumed that a lot of the tunes that got selected for these pirate CDs were numbers popular in the salsotecas?
JIC: And bands like Carruseles have subsequently covered a lot of the tunes on these pirate compilations.
DL: Oh, yeah. I think that all he was trying to do was make a better and clearer sound to get it into the marketplace.
JIC: So even though Carruseles have enjoyed some international success, are you suggesting that they have been more successful abroad than in Colombia?
DL: Oh, yeah, definitely. My family, who have got a nightclub, don't play that. They didn't even buy their records. It hasn't been promoted in Cali.
JIC: Tell me about your family's nightclub?
DL: It's like a small salsoteca.
JIC: What's it called?
DL: It's called El Palo, which means "the Tree." One of the walls of the club is a huge tree and around the tree is the wooden dance floor.
JIC: Is El Palo associated with a particular style of music?
DL: All music. They mainly play Sonora Matancera stuff, El Gran Combo. Very old stuff. For example, in these places you don't get salsa romántica played.
JIC: Do you think you've had enough now?
DL: I've enjoyed it.
Click here for the Dorancé Lorza discographic profile.
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